Elevating Inuit Community Wellness
“Our Elders tell us that when you teach a child to think with their hearts, their minds will follow,” says Dr. Gwen Healey Akearo, epidemiologist and founder and director of the Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre (QHRC) in Iqaluit.
QHRC staff implement this saying into their own work, acting with their hearts, knowing their minds will follow.
In this way, they are not just another research institute—they are a “heart-centered” organization with a holistic worldview on their role and place in the community. They see the connections between knowledge, learning, practice, relations and compassion and build on that with connections to their environment.
QHRC, founded by Gwen and the late Andrew Tagak Sr., was created to respond to community health questions, develop interventions and programs generated from community perspectives to promote mental health and wellness among youth and families, and make the data from these research projects accessible to communities in Nunavut.
For Gwen, one of the challenges of working in health and well-being has been a dependence on funding from territorial and federal governments. The availability of this funding is often swayed by political priorities, creating an instability in the programs, courses and services that QHRC provides.
This motivated the team to set up a business arm for the organization. In transitioning from a non-profit to a social enterprise, QHRC could reinvest their profits to further their social mission. The goal was to build a centre for community services that would include workshops on topics such as public health education as well as communicate the results of research studies in meaningful ways through art exhibits, open houses and community events. Gwen wanted to better understand and describe QHRC’s emerging position and map out ways to grow income and impact.
“We were looking to diversify our operations to focus more on self-reliance and self-determination and pursued the CESO mentorships to aid with this,” Gwen shares.
Gwen worked with CESO Advisor Lisa Burley to develop a social enterprise model for QHRC that focused solely on meeting the needs of Inuit families and children in their community. As a health professional, Gwen’s knowledge of running a social enterprise was limited.
“Lisa really helped open my eyes to what was possible, not only for what our organization might achieve, but what was possible for our community to achieve,” Gwen says.
In collaboration with Lisa, Gwen was able to successfully develop an application for funding which translated into a $2 million investment for her social enterprise non-profit community wellness centre for Iqaluit. QHRC was set to become a successful social enterprise.
The overall experience was enriching for both Gwen and Lisa.
“I learned a great deal about Indigenous-run social enterprises throughout the country and issues of representation. The assignment gave me a new awareness of the deep commitment of Indigenous peoples to their own communities by giving back through the many creative and innovative social enterprises run by and for them,” Lisa says.
As for QHRC, they are looking long-term with a goal of continuing to give back to their communities for several generations to come.
“I hope the future children of our community live in peace and harmony and oneness with themselves and our environment,” says Gwen.
CESO thanks and gratefully acknowledges financial support from Indigenous Services Canada.
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